The World Economic Forum finds that, based on the eight years of data available for the countries that have been part of the Global Gender Gap Report since its inception, the majority of countries have made only slow progress on closing gender gaps, including Australia.
Australia is again ranked 1st for educational attainment, however overall is ranked 24th out of 133 countries who participate. Australia has slipped from 15th place 6 years ago and is ranked behind countries like New Zealand, Burundi and South Africa. In the Asia-Pacific Region, Australia ranks third overall behind New Zealand and the Philippines. This ranking reflects the lack of investment that both governments and business have made in systemic and widespread programs targeting gender equality.
UN Women NC Australia’s Executive Director Julie McKay describes the workforce participation and wage gap in Australia as unacceptable. “It is frankly embarrassing that we as a nation should have the highest educational outcomes in the world, yet not be capitalising on this talent in our workplaces or leadership positions. Women leaving secondary school or university have equal or better results than their male counterparts, yet female graduate salaries are at just 90% of male graduate salaries in comparable industries. The gap in wages and chances for advancement in the workplace get worse as a woman’s career continues. Australian women will retire on average with $114,000 less superannuation than their male counterparts. We need to address this inequality so that women’s talents and contribution to the workforce are treated as equally valuable to men’s.”
Ms McKay says that Australia’s high ranking in educational attainment compared to the low ranking in labour force participation (52nd) is evidence of bias and discrimination that women continue to face in our workplaces. “Employers must work to ensure that targets for women in leadership roles are set and that flexible work practices are fostered. Addressing sexual harassment will also be a factor in improving workforce participation. We must ensure that young girls and women have the widest possible range of career prospects available to them, encouraging them to enter non-traditional careers, negotiate salaries and recognise their value.”
The Report ranks Australia 69th for health and survival. “Despite having a robust health system in Australia, not everyone has equal access to it,” says Ms McKay. “This low rank is reflective of the inequality in our health system. Indigenous women, women living in rural and regional areas and women with disabilities all face serious challenges accessing affordable, quality health services”.
Australia is ranked 43rd in the world for political empowerment, behind India, Uganda and Serbia among others. “We have recently seen in Australia a significant reduction in the number of women in our Cabinet. We seem comfortable to ignore the evidence which shows that gender equality and national competitiveness are correlated,” says Ms McKay. “When women are economically, socially and politically empowered, national competitiveness improves in the long term. It is in the national interest to close the gender gap.”